Concerning this, there is this:
It has also been referred this to us as un-American, that we are not satisfied with public schools, but build and maintain our own schools alongside them, namely congregational schools. Even German political newspapers have kept their eyes on us during the recently conducted “school struggle”, in which the “state” was actually asked to prohibit the establishing and maintaining of church schools alongside the state schools, on the grounds that church schools are dangerous to the welfare of the state. These remarks first came from the radical unbelieving side and therefore have not particularly astonished us. The hatred against Christianity proved to be stronger than a certain amount of love for the German language. But not only the spokesmen for professional unbelief demanded the suppression of congregational schools. Ecclesiastical sectarian papers designated them “as contradictory to the institutions of the country” and entered the fierce struggle against our schools. This must appear strange in the highest degree to all sober Christians.
We are an anomaly here in America, for which we scarcely find an example in other countries. Wherever the Christian Church is also merely a small force, there it also presses for Christian schools. Everywhere you can see where there is still a somewhat Christian understanding that the Christian school belongs to the Christian church. If Christian missions wish to assert themselves and gain a foothold in a country, then they set their attention from the outset on the establishing and maintaining of Christian schools. Americans missions are no exception. They maintain in Africa, Asia, and wherever they work especially the Christian school with particular zeal.
But things are different in America itself. Although the Christian Church is a power in this country, yes, although there is almost no country on Earth where the Christian Church exerts such an influence on public life as in the United States of America, we believe that we are still faced with the astonishing fact that the vast majority of Protestant Christians have no religious schools and will know nothing of Christian Schools. Even the greatest number of sectarian fellowships, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, with their approximately 100,000 congregations have no Christian schools. People who would be earnest Christians still entrust their uneducated children year after year throughout the week to the non-religious state schools, in order to remember that only on Sundays Christian children are in Christian schools. One is satisfied with “Sunday Schools”. And this is considered in general not as an emergency – for where should a state of emergency also come with the full freedom of the Church and with rich earthly means, over which these fellowships mostly have? – but regarded as the right state of things. Among the Protestant sects only the Episcopalians and the German Unionists are a partial exception. Also not all who would be Lutherans have Christians schools. In the General Synod and the General Council, with the exception of the Swedish Augustana Synod, one usually has no Christian school, although it is recognized that there are more exceptions to the rule in the Council than in the General Synod.
How could it come to this miserable condition? Generally speaking: the great mass of Christians in America has fared as some pagan peoples of ancient and modern times. If certain gross sins were public and in fashion a long time among the heathen, then the natural conscience ultimately was drowned out and one lost the feeling for sin. So also in Christian America the Christian conscience has been dulled by long practice regarding the lack of the Christian school. By the long, evil practice it has reached the point that only very rarely stimulates the feeling that the non-religious school may be an impertinence to the Christian Church. We inquire further into the sources that lie behind this abnormal condition as no doubt several factors here work together.
First of all, sectarian Christianity in this country almost without exception is the Arminian type. The very essence of Christianity, the Gospel, the doctrine of justification of a sinner by faith in the Gospel, retrogresses; however, an externally legalistic way, “to keep the commandments”, is pushed to the foreground as the real essence of Christianity. The specific distinction between nature and grace is blurred. Christianity often is regarded only as a higher morality that develops under a certain care of natural morality. So one can be satisfied with the non-religious public schools as long as “to do right” in inculcated in them. A chapter from the Bible is now read in the public schools even at the beginning of class, so one is easily persuaded that the public schools are still even a kind of Christian schools.
However, the main reason why one is content with public schools and basically looks at every congregational school as an “attack on our American institutions”, is yet another. The average American, not just the “natives” but in many cases also the “foreigner”, considers the establishment of “public schools” with the riches thrown out by state funds as the non plus ultra of political-social wisdom. Nevertheless, individual sober men always have warned, even from Anglo-American circles, about the overestimation of public schools, nevertheless the public school over time has become a kind of national idol in the country. The vast majority of American Christians have taken themselves captive to this trend and the obligation to establish and maintain Christian schools is allowed to move entirely out of sight.
We Lutheran Christians, by God’s grace, do not want to be carried away by this trend, but remain mindful of our Christian duty. We are not enemies and opponents of the non-religious state school. We allow them their domain, in all due respect. Non-religious state schools are schools for non-religious people. There are enough non-religious people in America. To be sure, the duty does not rest primarily with the state, but with the parents to ensure instruction of their children. As befits natural law, the parents first feed and clothe their children, so obviously it is also according to natural law that parents first have to provide for the instruction of their children.
However, the state, if experience teaches that many parents otherwise would not meet or could not meet their responsibility, may come to the rescue, that it builds, maintains, and makes available schools to them at its own expense. The state also may tax its citizens for this purpose and Christians among its citizens will refuse least to pay these taxes. The state has an interest in ensuring that its future citizens are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge. So we recognize the relative necessity of public schools and render these schools their value in their field.
We Lutheran Christians will not also attempt to make the state schools Christian. We distinguish ourselves in this respect from both the papal Church as well as the sects. The papal Church in our country works toward the goal to make popish schools into state schools. The Archbishop of Ireland even submitted this plan quite bluntly last year at a meeting of public school teachers. Even most sectarian preachers envision it to this day as ideal to make our public schools Christian in their sense. Only recently prominent sectarian preachers were gathered somewhere in the east in order to cut a deal about a Christian religion which could be introduced in the public schools. It is precisely the character of both the papal sects, as well as the Reformed sects, to mix church and state. However, sober Lutheran Christians distinguish sharply between church and state. The state has nothing to do with the spreading and preserving of the Christian faith. So also schools that the state establishes, maintains, and controls should not teach the Christian faith. When the state tries to establish such schools, it then pushes things that are not commanded to it, and the result will be oppression and tyranny of conscience. Therefore Lutheran Christians advocate for non-religious state schools, if state schools may be necessary.
They themselves certainly cannot be satisfied for their children with the non-religious state schools. Before their eyes is the commandment of God: You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. The congregational school grows out of this commandment of God. Indeed, the Christian educating of children is also primarily a task of Christian parents, but the Christian congregation also has to take care that they do not interfere in the rights of parents. If individual Christian parents can and want to keep the educating of their children solely in their hands, so the congregation should not want to turn this into a sin for them.
As it is now, as Luther already mentioned, most parents have neither time nor skill for the necessary instruction of their children, so Christian congregational schools become a necessity. The Christian congregational school belongs under existing circumstances to the means by which Christians follow the commandment of God to educate their children in a Christian manner. And since this is a global command, that is, concerning all Christians on the entire earth, it also binds the Christians of America. That currently even Christians in our country call the establishing and preserving of congregational schools “un-American” is a terrible delusion. We do not want to get caught up in this delusion, but seek to remove it for our part through our contrary witness.
In short, we do not wish to make our congregational schools suspect or even let them slip out of our hands because of the accusations made against them. We wish instead, by God’s grace, to cherish congregational schools as one of the finest features of our church. Only then can we fulfill the duty imposed upon us by God under existing circumstances to raise up our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Only then will our children be formed in the pure doctrine of the Word of God, in order that they can defend themselves against unbelief and all sorts of heresy. Only with the help of congregational schools will the Church of the Reformation in this country gain firm footing and healthy growth; because if the sects without a congregational school increase significantly, then it must be remembered that they disregard from the outset the purity and unity in doctrine required in God’s Word. Finally, we also need the congregational schools in order for the Church to evangelize to the ends of the earth. May God bless our congregational schools!
Franz Pieper, Forward to the 1891 Volume of Lehre und Wehre
Translated by Rev. David M. Juhl and Mr. Kenneth Howes
Franz A.O. Pieper